Friday, September 24, 2021


I can't think of cops without robbers, the pairing being as intrinsic as salt and pepper, fish and chips and rock and roll. So, for me, the no brainer is this iconic song from the 1970s. Given, too, it is barely a month since the producer, one Lee 'Scratch' Perry, departed this earth, it seems as good a time as any to give it centre stage.

Police and Thieves/Junior Murvin (1976)

A supreme distillation of both reggae and dub, anyone unfamiliar with either couldn't fail to appreciate and understand the complex simplicities at work here. A beautiful melody, sung in a delightful falsetto without an an ounce of strain or grating, the sturdy skanking undercurrent, a perfect storm of controlled concern. But burbling in the middle distance is the stuff of genius, Perry fading aspects of the backing so subtly in and out, the barest hint of echo raising a presence intermittently. Sometimes dub is so full on and so frightening as to scare a first time rider: this is surely the song for sceptics to listen to. Of course, if you want and need a little more, there is the full on dub version: check in at about 4 minutes here, where all the studio shenanigans gets the full treatment, yet still leaves the majesty of Murvin's vocal intact. However, this is neither the time of the place to celebrate Perry, this is Murvin's gig. (Check back in to our yearly Obituary thread, at the end of the year, for that pleasure.)

Solomon/Junior Soul (1972)

Murvin, too, is no longer with us; he died, at the age of 67, in 2013. But 'Police and Thieves' was certainly not all he left behind him, even if most of his other hits were local only to the West Indies. Like so many on these islands, he was influenced by black American soul music, and, given the timbre of his voice, it is little surprise that it was Curtis Mayfield who most floated his boat. Trying, unsuccessfully, to get in with the bigger JA studios, he first found some recognition, as Junior Soul, with 'Solomon', above, in 1972. It was clear he had a stand out voice, even if the song is a little weak and generic. Four years later he again auditioned for greater attention, this time being picked up by Perry's Black Ark studio, and with whom he together wrote the set of songs released as the 'Police and Thieves' album. This was 1976, and it was released worldwide on Chris Blackwell's Island records. Hindsight places it as at the pinnacle of Perry's productions, with the ultimate backing musicianship of the Upsetters, the Black Ark houseband, with stalwarts such as Sly Dunbar, Boris Gardner and Ernest Ranglin contributing. Anyone unfamiliar and beginning to be intrigued by the dub reggae palette could do a lot worse than to invest in this LP. Should invest, rather. It actually took until 1980 for the titular song to become a major hit, based, in part, on soundtrack appearances. Murvin then continued to work with Perry, moving on to work with other producers and with other studios, if never quite repeating this earlier success. Here are a couple of later gems, tho', each with their respective dub workouts. Wise Man was his last recording, in 1998.

Cool Out Son/Junior Murvin (1979)

Wise Man/Junior Murvin (1998)

By now, I dare say some may be itching for their vague recollections of where else they know the featured song from, perhaps, in part, prompted by Jordan's recent post here. I refer, of course, to the Clash, seminal punks turned musical roots polymaths, who, on hearing the song in its original format in 1976, took it to heart and included it on their eponymous 1977 debut album. Eschewing the term white reggae, they categorised it as punk reggae. Murvin, apparently, loathed it: "they have destroyed Jah's work". Nevertheless, if intriguingly, it became the inspiration for Bob Marley to write his song, 'Punky Reggae Party'. Almost included by accident and an afterthought, 'Police and Thieves' became one of the band's most popular songs.

Police and Thieves/The Clash (1977)

And that wasn't the end of the song, there having been a plethora of subsequent covers, although the quality has been, let's say, variable. One of the more interesting was when the Orb, the UK psy-ambient electronica outfit, got together with Lee Perry. Their joint 'Orbserver in the Star House' project is, on occasion, an unwieldy and indulgent piece of work, but has a number of moments where their disparate worlds collide in alignment, and the revisioning of 'Police and Thieves' is certainly one of those moments.
(Well, it's different, but I always love this crazy shit.)

Police and Thieves/The Orb with Lee 'Scratch' Perry (2012)

The original and best. (Yup, get the whole album, you know you want to.......)

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Cops: The Clash Covered

The Clash
: Police & Thieves

The Clash
: I Fought The Law

The Clash: Police On My Back 

[purchase The Clash]
[purchase Sandinista!

When I thought about responding to this theme, I realized that the Clash covered three songs (that I could think of) about police, and was going to write about them. But then I saw that Seuras was working on a post about their cover of Junior Murvin’s “Police & Thieves,” so I won’t say anything more about that one, and direct you to Seuras’ piece, when it is posted. Although I will engage in some self-promotion by referring to my earlier article about the punk/reggae connection that the Clash was very much involved in, and which mentioned how “Police & Thieves” in part inspired Bob Marley’s “Punky Reggae Party.” 

Although the Clash’s self-titled first album was released in the UK (and elsewhere) in 1977, it didn’t get released in the USA until 1979. In 1978, while working on their second album, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, Joe Strummer and Mick Jones went to San Francisco to do some overdubs at the Automatt studio, where they heard, for the first time, the Bobby Fuller Four song, “I Fought The Law.” Originally written by Sonny Curtis, the song was recorded in 1959 by Curtis and the Crickets, after Buddy Holly died, to little notice. The song was recorded by other musicians, including Bobby Fuller, with minimal success. But when Fuller re-recorded the song in 1965 with the Bobby Fuller Four, the song became a top-10 hit, and since then has been often covered. Only a few months after the song charted, Fuller was found dead from asphyxiation in his mother's car in a parking lot near his Los Angeles apartment. 

The Clash’s cover was added to the US release of The Clash and was instrumental in getting the band airplay in the US. It’s a great version of the song, to the point that I think that many people (not anyone reading this, of course) think it is an original. And that’s not to take anything away from the Bobby Fuller Four version, which is also great. Although it is interesting to think about the fact that the Clash’s version was released less than 15 years after the Bobby Fuller version, when I think about them as being from such completely different eras. If you'd like to read more about the song, from the Financial Times, of all places, go here.

London Calling is my favorite Clash album, and is actually one of my all-time favorites, and while it has a few cover songs on it, none are explicitly police related (I don’t think). Their next album, Sandinista! was a sprawling three-disc release, and some critics thought it was better than London Calling, while others, including me, thought that it had a little too much filler, and might have made a killer double album. But they do get points for ambition. There was a strong reggae and dub influence all over Sandinista!, and one of the covers on that album was “Police On My Back,” written by Eddy Grant (probably best known for his early-1980s hit, “Electric Avenue”) for his group the Equals in 1967. The Equals may well have been the first popular racially mixed band in the UK, and their version of the song, while sounding very consistent with British pop of the era, had a definite ska undertone. Interestingly, the Clash’s version is a straightforward rocker, with, to my ears, no real reggae or ska influences. And if you want to read a 29 page analysis, “Police On My Back and the Postcolonial Experience,” go here.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Woodwinds: Jack Bruce & Wheels of Fire Again


purchase [Fresh Cream]

I really, honestly had not planned it so that it would so coincidental, but  .. back to Wheels of Fire because Jack Bruce was so multi-intrumental that he also played woodwinds on the album.

As a kid, my first instrument was the recorder; we had a quintet or maybe even a setext of alto, soprano and even one tenor recorders in the fanily at one point (I still have posession of my father's tenor recorder - looks like a clarinet in size - definitely not your typical school recorder)

The instrument most commonly used in the classroom setting is the soprano. Available in plastic, of course. Yamaha notes that there are 6 sizes, from sopranino down to great bass, although perhaps "down" isn't quite appropriate: the great bass is approximately the size of a human.

Although I think I can identify its presence/sound, I'll take Ginger Baker's word for it when he identifies the song where Jack Bruce plays the recorder as <Pressed Rat and Warthog>. From

On “Pressed Rat and Wart Hog” Jack plays two basses. The second bass comes in at the end and it’s a six string. Eric’s on three times. I’m on twice with trumpet and tonette. When I played tonette, Jack played recorder.

Here's a more contemporary rendition, but there's no recorder.